Being in a car accident is obviously a scary ordeal, however, if it was not your fault, you should not really have to worry about the financial costs of obtaining an attorney. If, however, you were the cause of the accident, you will be paying fees to an attorney to defend yourself in the case. Depending upon your specific situation, we have broken down the possible costs to see when it is worthwhile to obtain an attorney or possibly represent yourself in a small claims court.
Operating on a Contingency Percentage
When it comes to personal injury, most affordable injury attorneys are going to be willing to work on a contingency basis. This means the attorney only gets paid if you win your injury case. The percentage attorneys will charge is often based on the risk of the case. For instance, if you are involved in a case that could literally go either way, you will probably be faced with a 60/40 split in your favor. Cases that are expected to settle faster and may not require much work on the part of the attorney could be far less, such as a 75/25 split in your favor.
These percentages, however, will vary from attorney to attorney, with some legal firms having a set percentage regardless of how easy or difficult the case will play out. Even in cases such as this, though, you may be able to haggle with your attorney on the costs. For instance, you may be able to add a stipulation that if a settlement is offered after the first demand letter, the percentages are lessened due to the timeliness of the settlement.
The important thing to remember here is that if you are the victim and you have ample evidence to support your case, you hold the leverage not only against the other driver but also with your attorney. The easier the case will be to settle, the more leverage you will have when negotiating the fee for the attorney’s services.
Flat Fee Attorneys
When it comes to accident cases, you may decide to go with a flat-fee attorney, but this could be a risky venture depending upon the actual settlement. This is a far better option to pursue if you are the person being sued rather than the individual bringing the suit. By agreeing to too high of a fee, you could find yourself in the red if the settlement is not quite what you thought it would be.
Again, in an accident case, this would be a better option for the defendant rather than the accident victim. If the case were to settle quickly, you could find yourself with a windfall of cash, but when dealing with insurance companies, that is not often the case unless it truly is an open and shut case. The more experienced the attorney, the higher the hourly fee, so be very cautious if choosing this option.
Retainer Plus Contingency
In some cases, attorneys will require a small retainer in addition to a contingency fee. However, if the case is settled in your favor, the retainer will be deducted from the final settlement. For instance, if your attorney requires a $5,000 retainer on a 30 percent contingency and the case settles for $100,000, the attorney will only receive a payment of $25,000 upon settlement due to the fact he or she was paid $5,000 upfront.
Paying Fees and Expenses
This is an area you will have to negotiate with your attorney. There are going to be significant costs to carry out the case, such as investigators, court reporters, costs of obtaining records, etc. In most cases, the attorney will require his or her client to pay these costs as they become due. An alternative would be to put down a deposit in which the attorney works off for expenses until the fund is depleted, at which point you will be required to refund the account.
Now, this is not always the case. If you are financially challenged, you may be able to negotiate with the attorney to cover the fees and expenses for you in exchange for a higher percentage upon settlement. For instance, if you cannot afford to pay the fees, the attorney may work on a 50/50 split, but they cover all costs regardless of how the case settles. For example, if you have a case that settles for $100,000 and incurred $10,000 in expenses, you will only receive $40,000 upon settlement, as the attorney would receive his or her $50,000 contingency fee as well as being reimbursed for the $10,000 in expenses.
If you do go this route, however, you should insist on the split taking place on the net settlement, not the gross settlement number. In fact, you should insist on this regardless of the arrangement you have with your attorney. In the example above, you would save yourself $5,000 in attorney fees. $100,000 – $10,000 = $90,000, which is then split 50/50, giving both parties $45,000.
In a case where you paid for the fees out of your own pocket, you also want to make sure you are reimbursed for those fees prior to the attorney getting his or her cut. For example, if you were working on a 70/30 split and did not recover the fees prior, in a $100,000 settlement with $10,000 in fees, your attorney would receive the full $30,000 share. However, by insisting on a net settlement, you would only be paying your attorney $27,000, saving yourself an additional $3,000 in attorney fees.
Should I Hire a Car Accident Attorney?
Generally speaking, when incurring serious injuries, the smartest move you can make is to hire a car accident attorney. If the accident was only a minor collision with no injuries and little to no damage to the car, the case will probably be settled by the insurance companies or in small claims court. When extensive medical treatment is involved, however, the only way to ensure you are getting the settlement you deserve is to use a skilled and experienced attorney specializing in car accidents. For more information about our legal services or if you are interested in hiring a car accident attorney, click here.
Taryn J. White is a legal research specialist and Injury law news reporter. Her current accomplishments include helping those facing any injuries from vehicle accidents, workplace accidents, and medical malpractice.